“How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation.” Feet? Why the feet?
Today’s first reading always makes me raise a curious eyebrow about these “beautiful feet” that have been traversing the mountains, but then I started thinking about a friend of mine who gave birth to her second child a couple of weeks ago. The child’s name is Junia—and when I saw her feet—those beautiful, brand new infant feet—the prophet’s message made a bit more sense to me: Junia’s newborn feet brought good news indeed to her parents: a safe delivery, a new beginning, and blessing from God on the family that was just beginning.
And those feet are the exact kind we are celebrating today: Newborn feet, in particular the newborn feet of the one the gospel of John calls the “Word of God,” sent to bring peace, good news, and salvation. We shouldn’t let that title fool us though: In this case the messenger and the message are one. This Word of God is not in the first place a book or a doctrine or a system of belief, but a person, a baby, born in an inconvenient and uncomfortable place, to a family and a people living in an uncomfortable and dangerous time. And the beautiful feet born in Bethlehem today will eventually take a long and difficult path to Jerusalem, where today’s story both ends and has a new beginning.
But today, though, today we get to stay with these newborn feet, and the heart of the message embodied in this messenger: “to all who received him, who believed in his name,” says John’s gospel this morning, “he gave power to become children of God.” That is to say, it’s not just these beautiful infant feet we celebrate this morning, but a new vision of all our beautiful feet—infant and not—and what this messenger says about them and about us: It’s not just the newborn Son of God we celebrate this Christmas; it’s also the new birth as God’s children he brings to all of us. And with him we become both messenger and message, the signs in the world of the peace and good news and salvation God desires for the world every day of the year.
God’s little messenger invites us to expand our imaginations about what this one birth means for the rest of us, those of us granted the power to become God’s children through our faith in him. I suspect that like the story of Jesus, that journey as God’s children only begins in our birth, and our beautiful feet bear us and God’s message in us through all the moments of life—good, bad, and otherwise.
And it’s in those moments, all of them, that we grow in our understanding of what it means to live as God’s children, as those whose beautiful feet follow in the footsteps of Christ. And those feet grow and change in character on the road, and we with them, on our way to experiencing the fullness of this Christmas mystery in our own lives and journey. These feet of ours bear us, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, all the way to the end.
Which puts me in mind of another pair of beautiful feet: those of my grandmother, Jean, who died not two years ago after almost 101 years. My last memory of her was her walking into her bedroom for the last time. It was her bare feet that I noticed carrying her still, aided by the walker she also relied on. Those beautiful feet were the sacrament of her long journey, with all its ups and downs, and they were bearing her finally to the bed where she would begin her next journey into the mystery we celebrate this morning, when what is human joins finally and fully the divine source that made us.
Jesus, Junia, Jean—all moments in the mystery of the Word-made-flesh we give thanks for today, along with our own share in the life of the messenger born this day in Bethlehem.